As the rising water levels of the River Shannon remain under close scrutiny, Westmeath County Council director of services, Barry Kehoe, has allayed the fears of urban residents and businesses who fear the potential detrimental impact of flooding should recent incessant rainfall continue.
As of Monday morning River Shannon water levels were 38.87 metres, the highest level recorded being 39.72 metres in January 2016.
Speaking at the most recent sitting of Athlone-Moate Municipal District, during which he made a Athlone Flood Alleviation Scheme presentation to elected members, Mr Kehoe, stated that steady progress had been made in this regard, noting that the town was now in a “strong position” to contend with potential flooding issues.
“While this recent period of incessant rainfall gives just cause for concern, steady progress has been made with regard to works on the urban flood cells so I do believe that the town is now in a strong position to avoid potential serious flooding issues should water levels continue to rise.
“It is comforting for those living within the town and in close proximity to the River Shannon that the water defences are almost complete and sufficient to withstand potential flooding,” Mr Kehoe said.
The Athlone Flood Alleviation Scheme commenced in 2017 and as works on seven of the eight flood cells almost close to completion - at Deerpark, The Strand, The Quay, Brick Island, Marine View, Iona Park and River Al, the threat of urban flooding appears to be alleviated. The anticipated conclusion of the Athlone Flood Alleviation Scheme is the second quarter of 2024 at an expected cost of €15 million.
As noted in last week’s Athlone Advertiser, a serious threat of flooding remains for those living in rural areas, Mr Kehoe stated that resources previously allocated towards the relief of rising water levels in Athlone can now be afforded to such locations should the need arise.
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“Obviously, we are hoping that this need does not arise, but we have to assure those living in rural areas that they will have access to and from their homes. We will be available to give of our support and respond accordingly on an inter-agency basis, but we are certainly under pressure from an accommodation perspective should residents need to be evacuated,” Mr Kehoe stated.
Referencing additional support to those residing in rural areas of Athlone, Mr Kehoe noted that the local authority fully intended to place demarcator signs on all potential flood effected routes to ensure paramount safety.
Responding to Mr Kehoe’s flooding assertions, Cllr Aengus O’Rourke expressed his view that the Athlone Flood Alleviation Scheme should be “further progressed”, noting in particular that Marine View was akin to a “building site”.
“It is a positive to know that there is a date set for the conclusion of this scheme and hopefully we can deliver accordingly,” Cllr O’Rourke asserted.
Expressing his thoughts regarding the current rising water levels in Deerpark, Cllr O’Rourke stated that he had visited the area and was deeply concerned with the threat of potential flooding to local residents.
“It takes five to six days for water to flow down to this particular catchment. It is very early to see water levels at such a height. This, coupled with flooded drains and the smell of sewage, is proving detrimental to the residents of Deerpark and I know of one family who have departed their home due to ongoing concerns. We must strive to keep these drains clear at all times and I hope that as a local authority we can work with Irish Water in this regard.
“We battled higher water levels in 2009 and 2015, but I do have a great deal of confidence that we can now cope with any potential flooding issue that comes our way. This is a very important time of year for retail and I want the public to know that Athlone is open for business,” Cllr O’Rourke remarked.
Responding to Cllr O’Rourke’s plea, Mr Kehoe stated that a graduated plan would be implemented to curb the potential threat of flooding in Deerpark with the temporary installation of relevant water defence mechanisms.
“Irish Water will assist in the alleviation of such drainage issues and we have the capacity to improve our pumping resources should the need arise, but I do believe, as stated previously that the urban area of Athlone is in a stronger position in 2022 to address potential flooding issues,” Mr Kehoe concluded.